28th November 2023

Samira Aboizneid, 15, has so many plans for her future. 

“I want to go to McMaster University and maybe study neuroscience, maybe study law,” she says from inside her bedroom one Sunday afternoon in January.

It’s lunchtime at the tidy townhouse where she and her family live on the Hamilton Mountain. Downstairs, her mother, Ahlam, is preparing a Palestinian favourite dish — Maqluba — and the smell of slow-cooked chicken and cardamom wafts up to the room Samira shares with one of her younger brothers. 

Her bed is piled with school books, a Texas Instruments calculator and homework filled out with neat handwriting — evidence of her scholarly ambitions. 

“I want to make a difference within the government. Maybe I want to become an immigration lawyer myself to prevent what’s going on with my family [from happening] to others,” she says.

Samira, along with her parents and four siblings, is facing deportation to Chile — a country where the family lived before coming to Canada but have no family ties and do not speak the language — for the second time.

The Aboizneid children have spent most of their lives in Canada and deportation means leaving their friends, school and plans for the future behind, again. 

“I feel as if I’m a Canadian myself. It’s just like a hole in my heart … when they tell me I’m not,” Samira said. 

Family says they felt isolated, unsafe in Chile

The Aboizneid family’s story, like many stories of people seeking refugee status, has several twists and turns. 

Monir Aboizneid and his wife, Ahlam, fled the Palestinian territories in 2005 with their infant son, Tariq. 

They went to Chile, which has a large Palestinian population, and eventually gained citizenship there but Monir said as Muslims, his family still felt isolated and unsafe. 

He recalls one instance when Ahlam was assaulted coming home from shopping. A group of young people pulled Ahlam’s hijab from her head. A letter written by the family’s former landlord and seen by CBC Hamilton details the incident.

A family gathers around a steaming hot dish of rice and chicken.
The Aboizneid family gathered together to eat maqluba, a traditional Palestinian dish. The day before, in early January, Monir and Ahlam told the youngest four of their five children that they are once again facing deportation. (Cara Nickerson/CBC)

In 2015, following the birth of two daughters, Sadin and Samira, and another son, Qusai, the family came to Canada, settling in Hamilton, and sought refugee status. 

According to the family’s lawyer, Daniel Kingwell, their application was denied, followed by a dismissed appeal in 2020. 

Documentation shows their refugee status was denied due to “credibility concerns” and that their persecution in Chile “was not supported by the objective documentation.”

In December 2019, Ahlam and the kids were deported to Chile, Monir said. “Because I came through the airport and they came through the [land] border, I could appeal the deportation and they couldn’t,” he added.

The family returned through the U.S. in 2021 and applied this time to stay under humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

That application was denied on Nov. 15, 2022, saying Monir “has not demonstrated that he has strong ties to Canada,” and that “he can reasonably secure the same or similar employment outside of Canada.”

The immigration officer did acknowledge however the “difficult adjustment” the children have had to make and the “contribution [the family has made] to their community in Canada.” 

‘This is their country’

The impact on the children is what the family is now hoping will help in their final appeal, now underway.

Samira said the 2019 deportation greatly impacted her mental health. “It just really set me off into a depressive episode,” she said. 

The process has been hard on other siblings as well. Tariq, now 18, said he had to be “the man of the house” when the family was back in Chile — a weight that Tariq still carries. 

Now resettled back at school, Monir said he promised the kids they would not have to leave Canada again. 

“They love Canada because they think this is their country. You know, they were devastated the first time [they were deported],” he said. 

Final appeal process moving forward

Kingwell said the Aboizneids still have a strong case with the appeal. On Jan. 12, an immigration officer was assigned to the case he said, which he believes to be a good sign.

The family says they have worked hard to establish themselves in Hamilton over the last eight years — they’re active with the local mosque, volunteered for the federal Liberal party during the 2021 election and have helped other Palestinian newcomers settle in the city. 

Their youngest son Wael, six, was born in Canada and has Canadian citizenship. 

Kingwell said Tariq, on the other hand, never gained Chilean citizenship and continues to have only Palestinian documents.

“There isn’t Palestinian citizenship per se. Palestinians are stateless,” Kingwell said. 

The mix of citizenship complicates the case, he added. “The problem for the family is that they [would be] going to Chile. That’s not a stable, durable solution for the family,” Kingwell said, adding that because Wael is a Canadian citizen he has no real right to stay there.

In an email to CBC Hamilton, a Canadian Border Services Agency representative said, “having a Canadian-born child does not prevent the removal of a foreign national.”

“The CBSA always considers the best interest of the child before removing someone. If parents of Canadian children must be removed from Canada, then travel of the children can be facilitated to keep the family together,” it said, adding it could not comment on this specific case.

A little boy hugs a stuffed moose.
Wael Aboizneid, six, is the youngest child and the only one born in Canada. He is pictured here with his favourite stuffed moose, which he takes everywhere with him. (Cara Nickerson/CBC)

“The solution in Canada would be to give them all status here so that they can stay together as a family here,” Kingwell said. 

On top of their children’s ties to Canada, Ahlam is a newly registered personal support worker, working at a long-term care home. 

“We feel like [Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada] haven’t assessed that properly,” Kingwell said, referring to Ahlam being a health-care worker. The decision to reject the application in November described her as a “stay-at-home mother.”

But even with an appeal on the table, the family could be deported before their case reaches court. 

“Appeals typically can take up to a year to resolve in court and there’s often a removal that’s attempted in the meantime where we have to go and bring a motion for a stay of removal in federal court. They’re not out of the woods yet,” Kingwell said. 

“But the fact that immigration has agreed to reconsider their humanitarian application is a huge step forward,” he said. 

‘We need a miracle’

For Ahlam, the most difficult thing about the looming deportation is knowing that her children are upset and trying to hide their pain. 

“It’s really hard for me to see them like this, because Tariq, he’s smiling and I can see the tears coming from his eyes,” Ahlam said. 

A man and a woman sit on a couch.
Monir and Ahlam Aboizneid both worry for their children’s futures, with a deportation now possible. (Cara Nickerson/CBC)

Monir shares his wife’s sadness about their children. “I promised them this time [is] gonna be OK,” Monir said. 

The family reached out to MP Lisa Hepfner, who Monir and Ahlam volunteered for during the 2021 election. 

Hepfner told CBC Hamilton she is writing a letter on the Aboizneids’s behalf to Minister of Immigration Sean Fraser. 

“We need a miracle to happen to us, to just stay here,” Ahlam said.